Animal Rescue Groups Scramble For Refunds After Cancelled Pet Expo

If it’s small and fuzzy and has a shot at a real life, Dahna Betts said she’ll take it.

Betts operates Shih Tzu Rescue, Adoption and Education Safehouse (S.T.R.A.E.S.) out of her home in suburban Homer Glen. It’s an all-volunteer, not for profit, no-kill licensed animal shelter that she established in 1999 to provide care and sanctuary to Shih Tzu and special-need dogs.

“It’s very easy to get attached to them; totally, totally attached to them,” Betts said.

While Betts said she relies on donations to rescue the dogs, she often dips-in to her retirement savings to help pay for costs associated with providing the animals’ veterinary care.

“My vet bills last month were $18,000!” Betts said.

Still, she attends as many pet expositions as possible to help spread the word about her rescue group.

“People come to these events. There are shelters and rescues there. They get to see our dogs. They get to talk to us,” Betts said.

Once such event, the Windy City Pet Expo, was scheduled for late July in Schaumburg. Betts paid her $700 booth fees a year in advance. But hours before the doors were supposed to open, the expo was cancelled.

“In the meantime, we had found out that they didn’t have the hall,” Betts said. “Nothing was set up.”

Dozens of exhibitors had signed up to participate, including Greg Shives, who runs a Chicago-based English Bulldog rescue group called Adoptabull.

“It was a missed opportunity to showcase our program,” Shives said.

Shives said the expo’s cancellation cost him money and his volunteers’ time.

“People have their personal life. They’re willing to volunteer, but you have to really be courteous and respectful of their time. They’re giving this for free,” Shives said.

The organizer, Amazing Pet Expos, offered to reschedule the show the following weekend, according to Shives and Betts. But due to an expected low turnout, the event was not held.

Amazing Pet Expos subsequently directed exhibitors to an online survey to initiate refunds and said an insurance company would handle claims.

Shives said he filled out the survey but did not receive any follow-up information regarding a refund of his booth fees, van rental expenses and volunteers’ time.

Betts refused to complete the online survey, citing concerns about providing sensitive business information.

“They want all kinds of information that quite honestly in this day and age I’m very careful about handing out,” Betts said.

Instead, Betts directed her refund request to the company president. But she said the emailed responses from the company felt like a “brick wall”.

“I finally figured we’re just not going to get our money back,” Betts said.

In 2016, Amazing Pet Expos told the Better Business Bureau that after it canceled some shows it issued refunds to vendors who could not attend rescheduled events.

NBC 5 Responds spoke to four other Windy City Pet Expo exhibitors who said while the company has been in contact with them following the event’s cancellation, they are still waiting for refunds.

NBC 5 Responds left voice messages with the Amazing Pet Expos president and sent several emails requesting a comment on the Windy City Pet Expo’s cancellation and an update on exhibitor refunds. We have yet to hear back from the company.

However, Betts said our efforts must have caught someone’s attention because she eventually received a $700 refund for her booth fees.

“I wonder how many others have received their refunds or is it just the ‘squeaky wheel’,” Betts said.

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